HOS changes promote flexibility without hindering safety, agency says

January 19, 2022

Mark Schremmer

|

Defending its recent changes to the hours-of-service rules, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration contends that the modifications promote flexibility for drivers without compromising health or safety.

On Tuesday, Jan. 18, FMCSA filed its response brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding a lawsuit filed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and several safety groups. The lawsuit says FMCSA’s rule changes weakened the hours-of-service regulations and will negatively affect highway safety.

“The incremental changes to the hours-of-service rules challenged here reflect FMCSA’s weighting of scientific evidence and its careful consideration of the potential impacts on driver health and safety,” the agency wrote in its respondent brief. “The current rule does not alter the length of time a driver may drive, and it generally requires a 30-minute break after eight hours of driving.”

FMCSA’s hours-of-service rule changes went into effect in September 2020. The lawsuit was filed shortly before then but was placed in abeyance early in 2021 so a new administration could become familiar with the case. The case resumed in October. Petitioners in the lawsuit are the Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the rule changes and is serving as an intervenor in the lawsuit.

The agency’s final rule made four major changes to the hours of service.

  • The on-duty limits for short-haul operations increased from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air-miles to 150.
  • The adverse driving provision extended the driving window two hours if the driver encounters adverse driving conditions. In the final rule, the definition of “adverse driving” was modified so that the exception may be applied based on the driver’s (and the dispatcher’s) knowledge of the conditions after being dispatched.
  • In addition to splits of 10/0 and 8/2, drivers are allowed a split-sleeper option of 7/3. Also, the qualifying period doesn’t count against the 14-hour window.
  • The 30-minute break provision was modified to require the break after eight hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.

The lawsuit specifically targets the provisions involving short-haul operations and the 30-minute break requirement. The petitioners said the changes to the short-haul limits did not account for the risks of driving later in the workday and failed to adequately respond to a study showing that driving under the short-haul exemption increases crash risk by 383%. In addition, the Teamsters and the safety groups argue that the changes to the break requirement ignored the effect on the safety of cumulative fatigue.

FMCSA said that the petitioners have failed to establish standing, saying the groups haven’t even attempted to specifically identify members who have suffered harm from the rule changes.

The agency also points out that its move toward the rule changes lasted more than two years. The agency issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in August 2018. FMCSA conducted several listening sessions and received more than 8,000 comments from the public before releasing the final rule.

“Even if petitioners had established standing to challenge the final rule, FMCSA’s exercise of its expertise and discretion to modify existing hours-of-service rules was appropriate and reasonable, and the petition for review should be denied,” FMCSA wrote.

OOIDA’s intervenor response brief is due Jan. 25. LL

TBS

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.